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15 – Ria

 

 

It was seven a.m., a Saturday morning which somehow felt like a Sunday; everyone was relaxed on the streets, children were running around merrily as people walked around in their tracksuits carrying shopping bags and their morning cups of coffee.

 

I had spent the night out camping, field-testing some new camping gear I had received from one of my sponsors. On the way back home, I dropped by a bakery to pick up a tasty German walnut bread. As soon as I arrived home, I made myself a tomato, cheese and avocado sandwich and downed it with a cup of coffee while thinking about how I should spend the rest of the day.

 

At half-past nine, I received a text message. “Come at once if convenient, it said. If inconvenient come all the same. Gwen.”  It was a Sherlock Holmes quote.

 

Her level of nerdiness didn’t stop at video games, it extended through a wide range of fields from fantasy, sci-fi and mystery novels to Japanese cartoons and Korean dramas. Most people would think she’s crazy, not in a weird way but more like in a ‘comic relief’ kind of way.

 

I have always suspected she spends a great deal of time practicing in front of the mirror, as she always seems to have a repertoire of lines and gestures at the ready, waiting for the perfect moment to leave everyone speechless. If pattern recognition was my talent, timing was hers.

 

I tried calling her but she didn’t pick up the phone, as usual. Even though I knew it was not a pressing matter, I still drove to her place as there was nothing else to spend my morning on. On the way there I stopped by a grocery store to pick up a bottle of soy sauce because one, mom taught me to never show up at somebody’s place empty handed, and two, Gwen loved randomness and soy sauce was the first thing that came to my mind when thinking of what to get her.

 

After parking my scooter in her doorway, I grabbed the soy sauce and climbed the two flights of stairs leading up to Gwen’s apartment. Before I had a chance to ring the doorbell, Gwen opened the door.

 

“What took you so long?” she complained, with her high pitch anime-like voice, while staring deeply into my eyes as she always did. She looked lovely as usual.

 

“Cosplay again?” I answered, with another question, while quickly glancing at her outfit.

 

“They are my new pajamas,” she explained, making a full spin to show off her cute yellow bear one-piece. She grinned as she took the soy sauce off my hands while showing me in. Her tired green eyes told me she had been awake for a while, but then her uncombed, neck-length light brown hair told me she had probably been asleep. She probably woke up a while ago and lay in bed with her phone until she heard me coming.

 

My best friend lived in a two-floor studio apartment in Champlain Heights. In her room was a double bed, a small fridge, a shelf full of books, comics and action figures, a small kitchen, a desk she used for drawing and writing on, four chairs, a cheap plastic garden table, endless piles of video game CDs, consoles, cartridges and a TV set just to play games on. The apartment was unusually unkempt today, the table was full. On it was a pile of clothes, next to a pile of papers which was next to a pile of dirty dishes.

 

On top of her work desk lay five empty bottles of which seemed to be pre-mixed cocktail drinks. Two of them had a label which read ‘kiwi-strawberry malibu’ and the other three were Bacardi piña coladas.

 

“I know…” she wept when she saw me inspecting the bottles. “Please don’t judge me…” she added, tilting her head and giving me her puppy eyes.

 

“Why are you still drinking this stuff? It’s got too much sugar!”

 

“I know… But… But, they are just so good and they happen to get my drawing juices flowing,” she replied, as she sat on the floor sharpening some coloring pencils. “Also, I’m here for a good time, not a long time.”

 

I sighed and tossed the empty bottles into a plastic bag, took the pile of dishes to the sink and started washing them. “Come on, help me, clear the table, put those stuff away, take a shower and get ready, we’re going out.”

 

“I’m ready to go.” She stood up energetically, opened the fridge and took another pre-mixed cocktail drink. She grabbed the bottle opener and got into character mode while I stared at her.

 

“BEHOLD! The true power of the Valkyrie!” she exclaimed while opening the bottle in a theatrical manner. The bottle cap flew off and landed inside a shoe. We both looked at the shoe as Gwen handed the bottle to me, pushed me with her bum and took over the dishes.

 

Meanwhile, I folded her clothes, piled them up neatly and placed them in the drawer under her bed. I swept up the pencil shavings and moved the pile of papers from the table to the shelf while taking sips from a bottle which had the words ‘tropical mojito’ on it.

 

“You’re right,” I said, “this is good, but it’s still too much sugar.”

 

She finished the dishes, grabbed the drink, looked at me dead serious and revealed: “Sugar is my secret to immortality,” while gulping the drink down. Then she took a notebook from the shelf and suspiciously placed it under her bed as if it contained a treasure map.

 

“I called you this morning,” I told her.

 

“I know, I watched my phone ring,” she replied, laughing.

 

“So, what’s up with the mysterious text message, what’s with the mess you’ve got here and what’s up with the Saturday morning cocktails?”

 

“I dreamed of you last night,” she explained while combing her hair with her fingers. “You were there, in some super hot place, and there was this tall guy with you. Then you left him, and something unpleasant happened to him, I don’t know what. And then there was this loud noise and I woke up. I don’t know if the dream meant anything, but it was so real that I couldn’t help but text you as soon as I woke up.” She passed me the drink.

 

I pondered over what Gwen had just said while gulping the last of the tropical mojito. “Do you think you could draw the tall guy for me?”

 

“I guess I could, but it’s gonna cost you, you know?” she grinned. “It’s gonna cost you a whole bottle of soy sauce, oh wait, you already brought one today, didn’t you? Well, I guess our debt is settled then. Fetch me a drink, a pencil, and a paper. In that order.”

 

It took me a few seconds to process what she had said. That line was brilliant and she delivered it perfectly, as usual, making me wonder if there were concealed cameras and we were actually on a reality show of some sort. I inspected the walls and the ceiling corners expecting to find a camera but I couldn’t see any, so I stood up, handed her the pencils and lay in her bed while thoroughly scanning the room in search of hidden cameras.

 

 

 

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18 – Ria

 

 

“Gwen, do you ever feel like we are trapped in a movie?”

 

“Wait, 4 minutes left,” she replied. It was as if the drawing had completely absorbed her, that’s one more thing that made her special; she could completely focus on whatever she was doing and give it a hundred percent. I wondered if it was an artist’s thing or if it was just her. “It’s done.”

 

I stood up and approached the table. On it was a detailed drawing of Jack Bauer, pointing a gun at someone outside the picture. His thinning hair and the gun were so realistic that it made me feel as if he was actually alive. Gwen looked at me and grinned.

 

Last month we had been binge-watching seven seasons of 24, so I wasn’t surprised that she had drawn him.

 

“What is this?”

 

“I couldn’t remember the guy from the dream,” she said, “but I didn’t want to disappoint you either so…”

 

“So you drew Jack Bauer because you didn’t want to disappoint me?”

 

“That’s right. So what do you think?”

 

“It’s mesmerizing, like everything you draw is, but it kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? You could have just admitted you didn’t remember.”

 

“I could but where’s the fun in that?” Gwen got out of character, she was being herself now. I sighed and lay down on her bed again.

 

It was almost noon, dark clouds covered the city, threateningly blocking out the sunlight. The smell of the approaching rain filled the room through the half-opened window.

 

Gwen got two more bottles of the fridge: rum, and coke this time. Then she got another set of pajamas from her drawer and handed them to me. She brought her laptop, laid it down next to me, and played the eighth and last season of 24 that we had yet to watch.

 

As we were halfway through the second episode we both knew we were hooked. There was no way back now, we would have to watch all the remaining episodes. That’s how our weekend would go. Laying in bed half-drunk in our pajamas watching Kiefer Sutherland saving the United States once again from some terrorist attacks.

 

“Where are you going?” Gwen asked me as I stood up to use the toilet.

 

“To the bathroom,” I told her. She looked at me worriedly and interlocked her fingers in front of her chest.

 

“Are you coming back?” she asked, concerned.

 

“Yes,” I said, stating the obvious. There was no need for a reply though, this was just her playful way to show she cared about me. She was letting her guard down for me, like a dog, exposing its belly for its owner to rub. I couldn’t help but smile and wink at her, glad she was back into character now.

 

A little after two pm, a heavy rain started pouring down on the city. We paused the show, got two more bottles from the fridge and took a break while looking down on the street from our second-floor window. It was a peaceful, familiar street in a quiet residential neighborhood. A few people with umbrellas walked by, a young boy walked through the rain without one, not the least concerned about the heavy rain. It seemed he was already soaking wet so he didn’t even need to worry about it anymore.

 

A light brown cat with a reddish-orange tinge was hiding under a tiled roof, witnessing the pouring rain. We slowly sipped our drinks as we waited for the cat to do something extraordinary, as cats usually do.

 

“Gwen, do you think cats know they are cats?” She grinned at me.

 

“Sure they know, they’ve got it all figured out.”

 

A few minutes passed and it didn’t seem like the cat was going to do anything so we snuggled back into bed and pressed play to continue watching the show.

 

 

21 – Ria

 

 

By nine p.m. we had been almost ten hours in front of the screen. Gwen stood up and went to look out the window.

 

“Is it still there?” I asked.

 

“No, she left.”

 

“How do you know it was a ‘she’?”

 

“The same way I know you’re hungry right now and want to order something to eat.”

She handed me the phone together with a flyer from a nearby Korean restaurant.

 

Gwen seriously disliked talking on the phone. Had I not been with her she would have gotten dressed and go to the place itself so she wouldn’t have to make the phone call. Whenever she had no choice but to make the call herself she got so nervous, and the conversations got so awkward that I bet her calls would probably be used later for training purposes.

 

The name of the restaurant was Seoul Doognegi. “What should I order?”

 

“Surprise me,” she said, grinning, and grabbed her towel as she got into the bathroom.

I knew she took exceptionally brief showers, so I had about three minutes to think about how I would surprise her. Under the seat of my scooter, I had a flyer from a Turkish restaurant, which would surprise her as she thought I was going to be ordering Korean, not Turkish.

 

I stealthily opened the door and ran downstairs to look for the flyer. My cute little yellow scooter was there waiting for me, and next to it was the orange cat we had seen before. She asked to be surprised, so I grabbed the flyer and the cat, came back upstairs and ordered two falafels with some fries. I poured some water in a bowl for the cat and observed as she went about sniffing around the room.

 

Gwen came out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her torso, she looked at the cat and then looked at me, then looked at the cat again and then back at me. I grinned. I could feel she wasn’t prepared for it, she was still analyzing the situation and thinking of a catchy phrase that would fit the scene. She couldn’t think of anything and now it was too late, she had missed her chance, if she’d said something now the timing would have been off and I could feel how frustrated that made her feel. She looked at me and went back into the bathroom.

 

As she turned on the hair dryer, the doorbell rang. I opened the door and a well-built dark skinned Turkish guy with a thick beard was there to deliver our food, he smiled at me and looked at the cat. The bathroom door opened, Gwen looked at the Turkish guy, I looked at the cat, the delivery guy looked at Gwen, the cat licked its paws, Gwen looked at me, grinned and went back into the bathroom. I paid the guy, set the food on the table and stroked the cat.

 

Five minutes later Gwen finally came out, sat in front of me, took a bite of her falafel and casually said: “Mmm, this is good!” Not a word about the cat, nor did she seem surprised about the food not being Korean.

 

After we finished eating she stroked the cat as if it was the most natural thing to do, went back to bed, tapped on it to signal me to come to her and played the next episode for us, episode eleven. We were almost halfway done with the show and after that we would be free.

 

The cat jumped onto the bed and rubbed herself against our legs. Gwen looked at me and held my arm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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